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Be a happy hacker with this keyboard

September 13, 1999
Web posted at: 11:45 a.m. EDT (1545 GMT)

by Nicholas Petreley


(IDG) -- I have four different styles of keyboards that I use. One is a clunky, traditional 104-key model. Another is the needlessly complex Logitech Internet Keyboard with an array of special keys for navigating the Web under Windows. The next is a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite model, which would be a terrific piece of equipment if the arrow keys weren't sized for the hands of a Barbie doll.

Finally, I am testing PFU America's Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite. The first thing you notice about the Happy Hacking Keyboard is its size. It has less than half the footprint of most other keyboards, because it dispenses entirely with the dedicated navigation keys (Home, End, arrows, etc.) and the numeric keypad. You can still get to most of these keys, but you do so laptop-style -- by pressing special key combinations.

Normally I detest notebook keyboards specifically because of their reliance on these key combinations. But after a rough start (which was rough mainly because I needed a wrist pad) I'm beginning to really like the Happy Hacking Keyboard. Aside from the key combinations, it really isn't as lame as a notebook keyboard. It is full-sized in every other respect, and it feels much better than the average notebook keyboard.
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I love the choice of most keys and key locations. For one thing, the Happy Hacking Keyboard doesn't have that useless Windows key (useless, in my opinion, even under Windows). For another thing, the Happy Hacking Keyboard puts the Control key where God intended it to be -- where the accursed Caps Lock key appears on most modern keyboards. (You can edit your xf86config file to swap these keys on any keyboard.)

I'm also grateful that there is no Caps Lock key at all. But if you're one of those heathens who must have one, relax. You can set the keyboard to toggle caps by holding down the Function key and pressing Tab. And (although I hesitate to even mention it) you can even set the keyboard to make one of the keys a (gag) Windows key.

In fact, you can use the dipswitches on the keyboard to set many options, most of which allow you to switch between key behaviors that are common to Unix workstations and those that are common to PC keyboards. For example, you can set the Delete key (which is placed where the Backspace key normally appears on PC keyboards) to either delete the current character or backspace over the previous character. And I really appreciate the fact that you can set the fatter Option keys at the bottom of the keyboard to function as Alt keys, which frees up the smaller Alt keys for other uses.

I really have only one complaint about the Happy Hacking Keyboard. XFree86 in Linux lets you increase or decrease your screen resolution by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Plus or Ctrl-Alt-Minus. But it only recognizes the Plus and Minus from the numeric keypad. The Happy Hacking Keyboard doesn't have a numeric keypad, and it doesn't provide an alternate key combination for the special Plus and Minus keys. So it is virtually impossible to use the Happy Hacking Keyboard to cycle through screen resolutions unless you change the XFree86 hotkeys to look for some other combination.

Instead of a new key combination to access these special keys, I'd prefer optional navigation or numeric keypads. Not only would this provide a way for people like me to get the extra keys without forcing everyone to adopt them, it would also be nice to have the dedicated arrow keys as an option for playing games.

OK, so I have two complaints, the second one being that the keys are a bit mushy. But that problem is epidemic. It has been years since I've found a keyboard with just the right amount of click. I'm afraid that all I can do at this point is pine for the old days, when you could buy the old Northgate keyboards that had exactly the right amount of snap to them.

All in all, I strongly recommend the Happy Hacking Keyboard. I got mine as a review unit, but I like it so much that I'm going to fork over the $69 to keep it. My Lite model only has a PS/2 connector, but you can get a more expensive model that supports a wider range of machines.

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The Happy Hacking Keyboard from PFU America
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